It is estimated that during the years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade 12 million people were enslaved. Today, the estimate is 27 million worldwide. Some of those slaves are working in nail salons, and one nail tech has had enough.
Tomilynn Rando, co-owner of New Beginnings Salon in Owego, N.Y., knows the nail industry. With over 25 years’ experience, she has held the role of nail tech, educator, salon owner, and event organizer. Trained under Maureen Volpe, Rando was instructed not only in bookkeeping and proper application, but also about the many advantages available to her as a nail tech. Doing nails offers two opportunities, taught Volpe, a way to invest in the lives of people and the ability to be independent.
Rando says through the nail industry she grew from a floundering teenager into a successful business woman. “I’m so grateful, and I try to inspire all new techs I train,” says Rando. “I want them to know the nail industry offers them the opportunity to be self-sufficient. That’s empowering.”
Rando first heard of the modern-day slave trade when she watched the movie Human Trafficking on Lifetime. That movie, along with other documentaries and interviews on the topic, angered and haunted her. “How can this be happening in the 21st century?” she thought.
Rando laughed the first time she was described as a “nail tech abolitionist,” but then slowly nodded her head to confirm the title. “It’s true,” she says. “Human trafficking is happening in nail salons, and I want to raise awareness among techs and clients so we can clean up the industry.”
Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington D.C., gives an understandable definition of human trafficking. It’s “the movement of individuals through deception or threats for the purposes of exploitation.”
People can be exploited in one of two ways: for labor or for sex. It’s a global problem not limited by borders, and though illegal, it’s so rampant it appears unaffected by limitations of law. Bales estimates 27 million people are living in slavery worldwide.
The problem isn’t confined to far-off countries across the ocean. It’s a booming business right here in the United States. In 2006, the FBI estimated up to 18,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year. According to Polaris Project, one of the leading anti-trafficking organization in the U.S., these people end up being exploited for labor in agriculture, domestic work, restaurants, strip clubs, and any other industry that lacks sufficient oversight. If it’s not for labor, individuals are exploited for sex. Polaris Project reports three main sex trafficking networks in the United States: domestic, Latino, and Asian.
All traffickers sustain themselves by using force, threats, or other means to control their victims. In the case of labor slaves, victims may be beaten or threatened with bodily harm, deportation, or possibly harm to their family. They are given no freedom, often live and work at the same location, and have little-to-no access to money.
With sex slaves, control is gained by terrorizing and dehumanizing the individual; the common result is a fearful, crushed spirit. While all three trafficking networks use Internet sites such as Craigslist and Backpage to sell victims, there does seem to be distinction as to where they operate in the real world. Domestic trafficking appears at places such as truck stops, street corners, brothels, and strip clubs. The Department of Justice estimates the average age for a girl to be trafficked into the commercial sex industry here in the U.S. is just 12 to 14 years old. A common scenario is for an older man to pose as a boyfriend, win her trust, and then become her pimp. Often the girl still views the man as her boyfriend. The Latino networks commonly use residential brothels, “delivery” services, and “cantinas” as legal cover for illegal activity. Asian networks hide behind escort services, karaoke bars, and Asian massage parlors (AMPs), according to Polaris Project.